20th MAINE: THOMAS CHAMBERLAIN’S COMMISSION AS BREVET MAJOR, “FOR DISTINGUISHED GALLANTRY AT THE BATTLES OF BETHESDA CHURCH AND PEEBLE’S FARM, VIRGINIA.”

$6,500.00

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Item Code: 846-246

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Thomas Chamberlain will need no introduction to students of Gettysburg. Born in 1841, he was the youngest brother of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who earned fame as the commander of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, defending the Union left on Little Round Top, and leading a downhill bayonet charge in a bold, last-ditch, and successful effort to drive back attacking Confederates of Hood’s division on July 2. The younger Chamberlain was acting regimental adjutant in the battle, the executive officer serving at the Colonel’s side, and was specifically mentioned by the Colonel who sent him to the commander of the color company in the very midst of the fighting when he noticed that most of the colorguard, in the center of the line, had been shot down.

Thomas Chamberlain continued to serve in the regiment even after his brother went on to brigade command. Bethesda Church was one of several names given to the fighting on 30 May 1864 near Totopotomoy Creek when Lee struck at the Fifth Corps as Grant maneuvered around his right flank. The Confederates had some initial successes, but were unable to capitalize on them and Grant continued his advance toward Cold Harbor. Peebles’ Farm was fought exactly four months later, on September 30 as the Fifth Corps again struck Lee’s right, as his army lay in front of Petersburg, in an effort to cut the Boydton Plank Road. This time Union forces could not improve upon initial successes. Although they drew back Confederate reinforcements headed to reinforce Lee’s left against simultaneous attacks at Fort Harrison and fighting sputtered on for several days, the Boydton Plank Road remained open as a supply route.

Thomas Chamberlain had enlisted and mustered into Company I of the 20th Maine as a sergeant 29 August 1862. Made acting second lieutenant of Co. D in November, he was commissioned first lieutenant of Co. G in January 1863 and was acting adjutant by April, a post he continued in after Joshua Chamberlain became colonel in May. He was promoted to Captain of Co. G in Fall 1863 and served in action with the regiment until November 1864 when he was posted division provost marshal. This still placed him in harm’s way, however, and he received two further brevets, to Lt. Colonel and Colonel, in part for his actions at Five Forks in 1865.

The commission is fully filled out in legible dark brown ink with no fading, dated May 1865 and conferring the brevet rank of major from March, with blue seal at top left and at bottom the signature of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the stamped signature of President Andrew Johnson (absolutely correct for the time period due to a hand injury he had suffered.) It is very nicely displayed in a clear two-sided frame that shows off everything in the document: blue seal, signatures, etc., but especially the citation at upper center: “. . . for distinguished gallantry at the battles of Bethesda Church and Peebles Farm Virginia.”

With the commission is a set of infantry major’s shoulder straps. They are of typical wartime construction, with an open back and gilt bullion borders with jaceron wire edging inside and out. The center ground is light blue and the rank insignia is a gold oakleaf at either end, signifying a major of infantry. Accompanying both pieces is a file of information including a 2020 dated bill of sale, photographs of the items and signed description by Janet and Bedford Hayes of Gunsight Antiques, Standish, Maine. At the time of the sale the commission and straps were accompanied by a signed CDV and a tintype of Thomas Chamberlain. These were apparently split off by the collector. The signed bill of sale, however, explicitly states the commission and shoulder straps had belonged to Thomas Chamberlain and the catalog description, picturing both, states they had been acquired together from a private estate and the photograph clearly shows these to be the same straps, which are displayed in a clear case.

This is in excellent condition and displays wonderfully. It would be impressive no matter to whom it was awarded, but Twentieth Maine items are scarce and by the time you get to anything directly related to the Chamberlains, you are in pretty rarified territory. This could be the centerpiece of a very nice collection.  [sr]

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